Perfect sailing conditions allowed for keen and fast-paced competition at the 10th Pete Sheals Memorial Match Race. Six teams sailed out of the Royal British Virgin Islands’ Yacht Club during this November 12th – 13th invitation-only regatta where the USVI’s Peter Holmberg put an end to the BVI’s Colin Rathbun’s record four-year winning streak. Holmberg, an America’s Cup winning skipper for Alinghi, didn’t once let down his guard, yet he did amply lend his support.
“We tried to sail at the top of our game in all the matches and we had a great time,” says Holmberg. “Throughout the event we took every opportunity to give tips and feedback to all the other teams.”
Teams sailed a total of 30 races in one-design IC-24’s on the first day, with Holmberg and his team in the clear lead. The breeze picked up the second day and the course was lengthened to accommodate the resulting increase in boat speed. Teams also became more competitive as they became tuned-in with their boats and began to understand the tactics and strategies of their competitors. Holmberg, however, maintained his lead right through the final set of 15 races. The BVI’s Rathbun finished second.
“Sailing against Peter is always fun, because he is a true gentleman sailor who also provides a very intense race environment,” says Rathbun. “Sailing against him, you know you are always testing the very best of your ability because there are no freebies and very few mistakes to take advantage of. If you do well in a race against him you know you’ve sailed well.”
The BVI’s Andrew Waters and Chris Haycraft (BVI) finished third and fourth, respectively, with the USVI’s Nikki Barnes’ only all-women team fifth and St. Maarten’s Frits Bus sixth. Barnes, an accomplished dinghy sailor who debuted for the first time as a match-race skipper, and her team won the special 10th anniversary ‘Spirit of Sailing’ Award. The Award was given in honor of the memory of Pete Sheals, and avid sailor, and at the request of his parents.
“Going into the Match Race I didn’t think we would win any races,” says 18-year-old Barnes. “But, with the help of Peter Holmberg, a great coach and friend, I was able to learn a lot in just one weekend and win some matches too.”
Next year organizers hope to have more teams competing, says organizer, Guy Phoenix. “We really want to push to have eight to 12 competitors for 2012, so that we can improve the ISAF grading of the event. The BVI is an excellent sailing environment and our medium-term goal is to make our match-race event a ‘must-do’ for competitors from the Caribbean and USA.”
Match racing is on the upswing in the Caribbean.
“With the increase in events, the talent will also rise,” says Holmberg. “The Carlos Aguilar Match Race in St. Thomas is still the biggest, but the Budget Marine event in St. Maarten just before Heineken Regatta has been quite popular. Then last year the BVI Spring Regatta added the Gill Match Race. I just learned at the Regatta Organizers Conference that Barbados has a very active match race series using their growing fleet of J24’s. Beyond this, I did a match race clinic at the Ponce Yacht Club in July to help get them going as well.”
The South Grenada Regatta will also feature match racing this year. Thus, this one-on-one form of sailing is truly gaining popularity from the Greater Antilles to the Windwards.
Event sponsors included Conch Charters, Tricor, Norman and Yvonne Sheals, Golden Hind Chandlery, and Sheals’ close friend Dawn Rosenberg-Santana.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.